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Dr. Carla Easter Visits WHS and Speaks About Henrietta Lacks

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by Hannah Benson

On Tuesday January 16th, Dr. Carla Easter visited science teacher Lori Stiles’s Biology classes and shared her passion and expertise on the story of Henrietta Lacks, and her HeLa cells.

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American women who was a daughter, mother, and friend to many. She was born in Roanoke, Virginia, but later moved to Baltimore.

Lacks had developed cervical cancer and visited John Hopkins Hospital, where she received radiation and treatment. Lacks passed away in 1951, but a man named George Gey was given Lack’s tumor cells. He found that the cells would grow and replicate. This was important because these cells could be used for research, testing medicine, and lots of other projects. These cells were given the nickname of HeLa. The cells replicated and doubled, and were shipped all over the world to be used for science.

Years later, a woman named Rebecca Skloot wrote a book named The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which shares the story of Lacks, her family, and Gey. The book has been awarded the “Goodreads Choice Awards Best Nonfiction,” and has even been made into a movie.

Easter works at NIH, the National Institute of Health, and shares what she does in the Educational and Community Involvement Branch, “We look at what some of the impacts of the science and the decisions people make not only on their personal health, but on the level of society.”

“I am giving my presentation on the science of the HeLa cells, while at the same time giving some societal and cultural background to the story and also talking about how the story of Henrietta Lacks translates to some issues we have today,” Easter commented.

Easter displayed a variety of pictures, while thoroughly explaining many topics surrounding Henrietta Lacks and her cells.

Stiles and her classes enjoyed the presentation. “I think it is awesome. I think she has connection to the book, and also she is well aware of some positives, as well as some negatives of the HeLa cells. Also, she still is involved with projects that either touch base with HeLa cells, as she kind of kept us abreast on what is happening currently and also is connected with the Lacks family. Her interest in coming to the schools is wonderful,” Stiles remarked.

Sophomore Phoebe Faoro stated, “I thought it was very informative. I learned more stuff about the cells that I didn’t know from reading the book and I thought it was cool that she actually had an insight with the family.”

Many are thankful that Easter was able to visit Walkersville High School and shine some light on the story of Henrietta Lacks, and her imprint on history.